Lamentations of Families of
How does one cope when a loved one was involuntarily disappeared? How
does one go on searching for days, weeks, months, years, decades?
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VIII, No. 30, August 31-September 6, 2008
How does one cope when a loved one was involuntarily disappeared? How does
one go on searching for days, weeks, months, years, decades?
In a roundtable discussion organized by the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR),
August 29, women who are mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of
desaperacidos (disappeared) shared their continuing search for their loved
ones and for justice.
beth calubadElizabeth ‘Nanay Beth’ Calubad’s husband and son were abducted
June 17, 2006 by suspected state agents in Caluag, Quezon. Nanay Beth
described his husband as someone who serves the people. Rogelio is a
member of the National Democratic Front (NDF) peace panel.
“Hangad niya na ang magsasaka ay lumaya, makamit ang lupa ng mga magsasaka,
iyon ang naging dahilan para siya dukutin ng military” (He worked for
peasants to be free, to get their own land, this is the reason why the
military abducted him.) said Nanay Beth.
Nanay Beth said that her son Gabriel was not involved in his father’s
activities. She said that Rudy was only driving the tricycle when the
suspected soldiers blocked their way.
Feeling the effects
Nanay Beth related her ordeal since the disappearance of her husband and
her son. “Nawala kami sa lugar namin. Kabuhayan, wala rin. At nagtago rin
dito sa Maynila dahil kung hindi baka kami rin ay dukutin.” (We left our
place. We have also lost our livelihood. We hid here in Manila because we
might be abducted, too.)
“Ngayon, paano kami nabubuhay dito? Unang-unang tumulong sa amin ang
Karapatan. Lumapit na kami sa [Commission on] Human Rights, hanggang
ngayon pangako lang. Pangakong nakapako,” (Now, how do we survive?
Karapatan was the first to help us. We went to the Commission on Human
Rights, they promised to help us. Until now, it remains a promise, a
broken promise.) she added.
Nanay Beth said she has no job. “Sa edad kong ito, wala nang tatangap sa
(At my age. no one will hire me.)
Nanay Beth took her youngest son to Bataan and then to Quezon City so that
he could continue his studies. She said it is also the poor who help them.
She still has a four-year old grandchild. “Nang mawalan siya ng ama,
dadalawang taon pa lang.” (When her father disappeared, she was only two
For Dee Ayroso whose husband Honor Ayroso was abducted February 9, 2002 in
San Jose, Nueva Ecija, the impact was not immediately apparent.
Honor was with Johnny Orcino when six armed men on board an owner-type
jeep took them.
Dee said it was the second time that Honor and Johnny were abducted. Both
were abducted in separate incidents in 1989. The two were interrogated and
tortured in safehouses before they were surfaced and charged in court.
Honor was acquitted on charges of illegal possession of firearms and
Dee continued,“Sa unang pagkakataon na iyon, nilitaw pa sila. Itong
pangalawa, hindi na.” (During that time, they were surfaced. This time,
they remain missing.)
“Hindi malaking epekto noong umpisa. Ang asawa ko, lagi naman nasa malayo,
peasant organizer. Habang tumatagal, doon mo nararamdaman kasi hindi na
bumabalik eh,” (At first, the effect was not enormous. My husband was
always away, he was a peasant organizer. As time goes by, the effect of
his disappearance becomes stronger because he no longer comes home.) said
The couple has two sons. When Honor disappeared, they were six and almost
two. Today, the eldest is already 13 and the youngest, 8.
aya santos, desaperacidosMeanwhile, Lorena Santos whose father Leo Velasco
and mother Elizabeth Principe were abducted in separate incidents said she
continues to overcome guilt feelings.
Velasco, an NDF consultant, was abducted by government agents on Feb. 19,
2007 in Cagayan de Oro, the city capital of the province of Misamis
Oriental, southern Philippines.
Meanwhile, Principe, was presented to the media by Army officials as a
high-ranking cadre of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New
People’s Army. Army officials said she was captured on November 28 in
Cubao, Quezon City by virtue of standing arrest orders for six criminal
charges, including kidnapping, arson, murder and frustrated murder in the
provinces of Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya. She is detained at the Camp Crame.
Lorena has been working as a volunteer of Karapatan (Alliance for the
Advancement of People’s Rights). She said, “Bago pa mawala si Tatay,
kasama na ako ng mga kaanak ng mga biktima ng sapilitang pagkawala sa
paghahanap. Pumapasok kami sa mga kampo ng military. Hindi ko akalain na
ako ay maghahanap sa tatay ko.” (Before my father disappeared, I joined
the families of the disappeared in searching for their loved ones. We went
inside military camps. I didn’t expect that I would also search for my
Dee said she went to the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police (PNP)
in San Jose, PNP in Cabanatuan City, PNP in San Fernando, and to the CHR.
“Wala akong nakuhang tulong.” (I was not given any help.)
Dee said that the CHR in
Region III just told her they have no funds.
After two months, Dee said that CHR investigators went to their house. A
senator wrote to CHR to appeal for urgent action regarding the case of
Honor and Johnny. Dee related, “Iimbestigahan daw nila ang kaso ng asawa
ko. Sa akin hinahanap ang wtiness. Nagtago na ang witness, tricycle
driver. Siyempre, takot din siya para sa buhay niya.” (They told me they
would investigate the case of my husband. They asked me about the witness.
The witness, a tricycle driver, already went into hiding. Of course, he
fears for his life.)
The only thing that Honor left behind was his belt bag, said Dee. The
police showed it to her but refused to give it to her.
Lorena said she also wrote to CHR asking for help. Until now, she has not
received any reply.
Dee said that the most difficult to overcome is the feeling of
helplessness. “Lahat ng pagtanungan mo, walang alam. PNP, Army, walang
alam. Ni hindi kami nakapag-file ng kaso sa korte dahil wala kaming
testigo, nagtago na ang testigo namin.” (Every one we asked claimed that
they knew nothing. The PNP, the Army said they knew nothing. We could not
even file a case in court because we have no witness. Our witness went
Lorena shared the same feeling. “Lahat ng pwedeng gawin, gagawin mo talaga
pero bakit wala pa rin sila? Sa lahat ng pwedeng lapitan, sasabihin nila
wala sa amin.” (I did everything that could be done but why are they still
not here? We went everywhere but they all told us our loved ones were not
in their custody.)
Lorena continued, “Sabi ng
isang Isfap, hindi naming ginagawa ang mandukot. Ang sarap sabihin,
sinungaling kayo.” (An Isafp agent claimed that they do not abduct people.
I wanted to tell him, you are liars.) Isafp stands for Intelligence
Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Nanay Beth said, “Nag-file na kami nga habeas corpus, umabot na ng
dalawang taon mahigit. Sa Sept. 16, mayroon pa kaming hearing. Ewan ko.
Talagang mailap, walang katarungan ang nararamdaman naming mga kaanak.”
(We filed a petition for habeas corpus, it’s been more than two years
since. On Sept. 16, we would have another hearing. I don’t know anymore.
We, relatives of missing, feel that justice is elusive, if not absent.)
Bilet Batralo, youngest sister
of Cesar Batralo, NDF consultant who was abducted Dec. 31, 2006, related
that Cesar’sbilet batralo, desaperacidos daughter Gabriela who was then
only four years old, dreams of becoming Darna (a superhero in Filipino
comics) so that she could fly and look for her father. “Dadagitin daw niya
ang mga kumuha sa tatay niya.” (She said she would snatch her father from
Bilet said when she started searching for her brother in military camps,
she experienced different forms of harassment. “Nakaranas akong kasahan ng
baril." (I already know how it feels when soldiers cock their guns to try
to scare you.)
Lorena also has to deal with guilt feelings. “Bakit hindi ko nahanap ang
tatay ko? Mayroon ba akong hindi nagawa? Hindi pa ba ako maingay?
Kailangan ba mas maingay pa ako para mahanap ko siya?” (Why can’t I find
my father? Is there anything I failed do? Am I not generating enough noise
about his abduction? Should I be more vocal to be able to find him?)
Jacqueline Ruiz, a psychologist said that the most difficult for those who
search for their missing loved ones is the absence of closure.
Dee said, “Parang pakiramdam din ng namatayan eh, na wala na ang tao… kaya
lang malupit dahil wala kang mabisitang libingan.” (It’s like that your
loved has died, he is already gone…but this is harsh because you don’t
have a tomb to visit.)
Ruiz said that they who search continue to hope that they will soon find
their loved ones.
She added that relatives of the missing, while continuing their search,
have to go on living. “Kailangang maging matatag para sa iba pang kaanak.”
(We have to be strong for our other relatives.)
Ruiz said that a support group helps a lot in coping with difficult
situations. She said that the knowledge that others are experiencing the
same could provide strength.
Lorena said that every time she feels guilty, she talks with relatives of
other disappeared persons. “They too did everything to search for their
For now, Lorena said they just have to continue searching and fighting for
justice. She said that enforced disappearances would stop only if there
would be a change in the societal system.
Lorena said, “Kailangan naming sumama, kumilos para sa pagbabagong ito
para hindi mawala ang mga kamag-anak namin. Hindi sila mawawala sa memory,
sa history, sa pakikibaka ng mamamayan.” (We need to participate, work for
genuine change so that the memory of our loved ones would not fade in the
history, the process of the people’s struggle.)
Dee said, “Hindi man makita, narito kami kung ano man ang pinangarap ng
mga nawawala, may gingawa kami tungkol doon. Nandito pa rin sila kasi
nandito kami.” (We may not be able to find them but we are here to
continue what they have been dreaming of. We are doing something for their
dream. It’s as if they are still here because we are here.) Bulatlat
STATEMENT IN SOLIDARITY WITH
THE FAMILIES OF THE DISAPPEARED
Enforced disappearance, one of
the most serious violations of human rights, constitutes an international
crime. The Arroyo regime, its police, military and para-military units are
all guilty of this crime. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in the criminal
tradition of Marcos and post-Marcos governments, continue this heinous
practice of kidnapping, abducting and detaining people and holding them in
August 30th of this year marks the 25th anniversary of the “International
Day of the Disappeared” and in the countries where authoritarian rulers
reign supreme, like the Philippines, the familes and friends of the
“disappeared” commemorate this day and march out to the streets to
remember (and have us all remember) that their loved ones have not yet
In the rallies, the families come with pictures of their loved ones, held
close to their hearts. The mothers stand out in the crowd, walking with
the wives or husbands and the children, some of them with lanterns and
candles. They march to the plaza, and hold up the huge photos in front of
the noses of the riot police as if to say “Look closely at this face,
surely you must know where my child is!”
Enforced disappearance challenges the very essence of human rights: it
denies the right of all persons to exist, to have an identity. Enforced
disappearance turns a human being into a non-being. The disappeared person
is deprived of all his or her rights and he or she remains totally
defenceless, in the hands of his or her torturers, outside the protection
of the law. It is a clear violation of the fundamental values of humanity
and the basic principles of the rule of law, and, in general, of
Enforced disappearance is part of the strategy of the Arroyo’s
counter-insurgency program, sanctioned and supported by the U.S.
government. Making people disappear is aimed at spreading terror and
insecurity among the communities to which the “disappeared” belongs and
the wider society as a whole. The use of enforced disappearances is
nothing but another systematic form of repression, which hides the human
evidence, whether alive or dead, while the perpetrators go free.
The pattern is insidious. Activists, community organizers, and citizens
critical of the regime are abducted, interrogated and tortured by the
military, police and its agents. The perpetrators hide their captives in
military camps, headquarters and government offices. There is good reason
to believe that some of the “disappeared” may have been killed and their
bodies hidden. Or that some of them are indefinitely and secretly
detained, or held incommunicado, in secret prisons or hospitals or
military camps. There are testimonies from victims lucky to have been
“surfaced” either in prison, or sent home after being coerced into
becoming military assets. In many cases, there are witnesses to these
abductions, which are mostly done in broad daylight by the perpetrators,
as if to arrogantly proclaim this ultimate abuse of power executed with
The suffering that enforced
disappearance imposes on relatives and friends of the “disappeared” is
severe: the eternity of waiting and the constant uncertainty about the
fate and whereabouts of the loved ones is particularly cruel. It is a form
of on-going torture for mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, partners, sons,
daughters, brothers and sisters of the “disappeared” person. The absence
of the “disappeared” loved one leaves a heartache that never goes away,
thus, the rallies and marches of the families are collective outpourings
of individual, personal heartaches that transform themselves into
political statements of clenched fists and strong resolves to demand that
their loved ones are surfaced.
The Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights reminds the Arroyo
government that enforced disappearances (as with torture and
extra-judicial killings) are violations of its own Constitution which
guarantees human rights to its citizens as well as violations of
international covenants on human rights and articles of war to which the
Philippine government is a signatory, including that of the Government of
the Republic of the Philippines (GRP)-National Democratic Front (NDF)
Comprehensive Agreement on Respect of Human Rights and International
We also are aware of the fact that the Philippine government has NOT
signed, which is the preliminary step to ratification, the U.N.
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced
We join the collective voice of the families and friends of the
“disappeared” and demand that :
• that the government surface
• that the government and the military open all military camps,
detachments and safe houses to searches by the families of the
“disappeared” and by human rights organizations;
• that the families and human rights organizations have access to
information and records to resolve the fate and whereabouts of the
• that the perpetrators be brought to justice thereby sending a clear
message that the practice of “enforced disappearances” will not be
• that the Arroyo regime STOPS the practice of “enforced disappearance.”
We link arms with the families and friends of the “disappeared” who
struggle against enforced disappearances and impunity and carry the burden
of uncertainly everyday. Their resistance against the very same government
that should have protected them and their loved ones do not go unnoticed.
We gather strength from mothers and wives and husbands and families who
demand, not beg, for justice that is rightfully theirs.
August 30, 2008
The Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights
Vancouver, B.C. Canada